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Special Education

Special education or special needs education is the education of students with special needs in a way that addresses the students' individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions designed to help learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and community than would be available if the student were only given access to a typical classroom education.

click for a list of common assessment tools



(13 Qualifying Categories of Disability)

IDEA eligbility to recieve speical education and related services

There are 13 categories included in IDEA under the lead definition of "child with a disability." Federal law (IDEA 2004, Part B) has 13 disability categories that States must use to determine if students, ages 3-21, are eligible to receive special education and related services.  Whether a certain child is eligible is up to the parent and the IEP team, but having a disability in one of the 13 categories is required in order to be found eligible.

in order to fully meet the definition (and eligibility for special education and related services) as a "child with a disability," a child's educational performance must be adversely affected  due to the disability.


1. Autism
Means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term autism does not apply if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in #4 below.
A child who shows the characteristics of autism after age 3 could be diagnosed as having autism if the criteria above are satisfied.

2. Deaf-Blindness
Means concomitant [simultaneous] hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.

3. Deafness
Means a hearing impairment so severe that a child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child's educational performance.

4. Emotional Disturbance
Means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
(a) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(b) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(c) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(d) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(e) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.

5. Hearing Impairment
Means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of "deafness."

6. Intellectual Dissability
Means significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently [at the same time] with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
(Note: “Intellectual Disability” is a new term in IDEA. Until October 2010, the law used the term “mental retardation.”  In October 2010, Rosa’s Law was signed into law by President Obama.  Rosa’s Law changed the term to be used in future to “intellectual disability.” The definition of the term itself  did not change.)

7. Multiple Disabilities
Means concomitant [simultaneous] impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

8. Orthopedic Impairment
Means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g.,cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

9. Other Health Impairment
Means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—
(a) is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and
(b) adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

10. Specific Learning Disability
Means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

11. Speech or Language Impairment
Means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

12. Traumatic Brain Injury
Means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech.
The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

13. Visual Impairment Including Blindness
Means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

Considering the Meaning of "Adversely Affects"
You may have noticed that the phrase "adversely affects educational performance" appears in most of the disability definitions. This does not mean, however, that a child must be failing in school to receive special education and related services. According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to "any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade." [§300.101(c)(1)]










Individualized Education Program


The program that serves the student population who receive special education and related services

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. The program serves the student population that receives special education services. It is set up to specifically address the individual student and their needs. The IEP is aimed at assisting students towards achieving at their highest ability within the school system. Parents, teachers, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) offer valuable information, experience and expertise to improve educational results for students with educational dissabilities.

The team is committed to looking at all aspects of the child's development, educational history, and background. The desired result is one that ensures effective teaching, learning, and better results for all children with disabilities.

This information is based on what is required by our nation's special education law - the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.



(This process may slightly differ among school districts)
Prior Processes
*Student Study Team (SST) Meetings
*Response to Intervention (RtI)

STEP 1: Student is identified as needing services
STEP 2: Assessment Plan Signed
STEP 3: Child is evaluated

(60 days allowed for assessment)
STEP 4: IEP meeting is held

(eligibilty decided and IEP document written)
STEP 5: Services are provided
STEP 6: Progress is measured and reported to parents
STEP 7: IEP is reviewed
STEP 8: Child is re-evaluated

(every three years -triennial- or as needed)


Who is on the team?


Parents include anyone who is legally responsible for the child. They are a vital piece of the puzzle in understanding the student in need. They have special insight to how school translates at home. This may include how they learn, special interests and important background information that could effect learning.

General Education Teacher(s)
General Education Teachers include teachers who teach in the general education population. They have a lot of information to share with the team. This could include: how well the student undertstands the cirriculum, how the student interacts with peers, how the students interacts with authority figures, classroom interests, possible interventions for the classroom, and general classroom behavior.

Special Education Teacher(s)
Special Education Teachers teach children who have special learning needs. They work closely with a team of professionals (such as social workers and speech pathologists) to provide help to each student. They have specialized experience in working with students in need and can contriubute a wealth of information to the team. This could include: ways to address certain dissabilities in the classroom in regards to learning and behavior, areas in the classroom to modify or enhance to maximize the students potential. Special Education Teachers often have their own "Resource Room" dedicated solely to students with specialized learning needs.

Person who can interpret what the child's evaluation results mean
Often times this is the School Psychologist. Several components make up a multi-disciplinary psycho-educational report. At first glance they can be very overwhelming with vast amounts of numbers, charts, and graphs. Parents often look to the person interpreting the infomation for clarity and definition to what eveything really means. This person must be able to link what the results mean to classroom implicaitons.

School System Representative
This person should know a great deal about the school, staff, and students. They are often times either the Principal, Vice Principal, or other knowledgable staff member. They have special insight to the school programs, and resources available. They also possess the authority to offer, employ, and enforce such provisions.

Others with knowledge or special expertise about the child
The parent may invite whom they wish to participate on the team to provide addtional support or insight. They may sometimes include a lawyer, advocate, para-professional, or vocational educator.

Transition Services Agency Representative
Transition services as per IDEA "means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed to be a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child's movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation and is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child's strengths, preferences, and interests ." This person helps facilitate this process.


In developing the IEP, the IEP team shall consider:
· the child’s strengths
· the parent’s concerns for enhancing the child’s education
· the results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation
· the child’s academic, developmental, and functional needs (Section 1414(d)(3)(A))

The IEP team shall consider special factors for children:
· whose behavior impedes learning
· who have limited English proficiency
· who are blind or visually impaired
· who are deaf or hard of hearing (Section 1414(d)(3)(B))

By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs. These include:

#1   Present Levels of  Educational Performance
The IEP document must state how the child is currently doing in school and how the child's disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum. Statements should address academics, life skills, physical functioning, social and behavioral skills, and any other areas of concern affecting the child's ability to learn. This can and may include grades, assignments, teacher/parent/staff comments and/or observations as well as formal assessments used to determine current ability and academic achievement for eligibility.

#2   Annual Goals
These are goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. Goals may be academic, address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs. The goals must be...
- clear
- observable
- measurable
ex. The student will perform grade level multiplication problems with 80% accuracy.

#3   Special Education and Related Services
The IEP must incude detail about the child's special education program, specially designed instruction, and related services. This includes supplementary aids and services that the child needs. It also includes modifications (changes) to the program or supports for school personnel, such as training or professional development, that will be provided to assist the child.

#4   Participation in general education
To ensure children are educated in the least restrictive environment, the IEP must explain the extent to which the child will not participate in general education classrooms and other school activities. The discussion should include such things as: class activities, school activities, issues related to possible :harmful effects" of placement and why services can NOT be provided in the general setting.

#5   Participation in state and district-wide tests
Most states and districts give achievement tests to children in certain grades or age groups. The IEP must state what modifications in the administration of these tests the child will need. If a test is not appropriate for the child, the IEP must state why the test is not appropriate and how the child will be tested instead.

#6   Length and duration of services
The IEP must state when services will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last.

#7   Transitional service needs
The law requires that, by age 14, the IEP team begin planning to address the student's need for instruction that will assist him or her in preparing for transition. This includes a coordinated set of activities with measurable outcomes that will move the student from school to post-school activities. By age 16 (or younger, if determined appropriate by the IEP team), the transition services must be implemented and the IEP must contain a statement of needed transition services for the student.
According to IDEA Section 300.29—
(a) Transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that-
(1) Is designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
(2) Is based on the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests; and
(3) Includes-
(i) Instruction; (ii) Related services; (iii) Community experiences; (iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and (v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.
(b) Transition services for students with disabilities may be special education, if provided as specially designed instruction, or related services, if required to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education.

#8   Age of majority
The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood as it is conceptualized (and recognized or declared) in law. Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority. (This statement would be needed only in states that transfer rights at the age of majority.)

#9   Measuring progress
The IEP must state how the child's progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.


The IEP must be reviewed at least once a year to determine if the child is achieving the annual goals. The IEP team must revise the IEP to address:

· any lack of expected progress
· results of any reevaluation
· information provided by the parents
· anticipated needs (Section 1414(d)(4)(A))